TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 17

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “America’s Got Talent” finale, 8-10:01
p.m., NBC.

After endless summer hours of auditions and commotion, we’re
about to get a million-dollar winner.

That could be a singer – which happened in five of the first
six seasons; this year, there’s Miguel Dakota, Emily West and 12-year-old
Quintavious Johnson. But the last two seasons have been won by specialty acts;
now we have the gymnastic AcroArmy, magician Mat Franco and music group Sons of

TONIGHT’S SHOULD-TRY: “Red Band Society” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

As teens confront mortality, they find fresh drama and even
some fun. Lately, that has brought “The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” “Chasing
Life” and now this uneven but interesting series.

A children’s-hospital wing links teens who wouldn’t be seen
with each other otherwise. Ranging from a cheerleader to a nerd, they’re united
by illness and spare time. Mix in a decent doctor and a cranky-but-caring nurse
(Octavia Spencer) and you have a fair mix of comedy, drama and (maybe) romance.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Extant” season-finale (CBS) or “The
Mysteries of Laura” debut (NBC), 10 p.m.

One show ends, another arrives, putting popular stars in
tricky places. For “Extant,” it’s Oscar-winner Halle Berry. Her problems merely
began when she became pregnant during a solo space mission; now her offspring
endangers the world. She hopes to re-direct the Seraphim and save us from
deadly spores.

And for NBC, it’s Emmy-winner Debra Messing, playing a
police detective who has a semi-attentive (and estranged) husband and immensely
naughty twin boys. The opening case is so-so and the light moments (especially
involving the boys) seem horribly strained. Still, Messing makes it fairly

Other choices include:

“Jaws” (1975), 6:15 and 9 p.m., IFC. Here’s the start of a
surprisingly strong movie night. Also starting early is “The Amazing
Spider-Man” (2012), from 7-10 p.m. on FX.

“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” 8 p.m., PBS,
rerunning at 10. The mid-section of this superb, seven-night documentary no
longer has Teddy Roosevelt to propel it. In the aftermath of his death, his
cousin Franklin seeks the vice-presidential nomination, fails, then fades for
seven years while battling polio. He bounced back in 1928 (New York governor)
and ’32 (president).

“Big Brother,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here’s one more eviction night.
That will be followed by an episode Friday and the finale next Wednesday.

More movies, 8 p.m., cable. On a superfluously strong night,
“Crazy Heart” (2009, CMT) has Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning perfection … “Men in
Black” (1997, AMC) has humor and special effects … “Holes” (2003) has a kids’
story with sardonic wit … and “For Your Eyes Only” (1981, BBC America) has James

“Modern Family,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., ABC. Fresh from winning
its fifth straight best-comedy Emmy, this reruns the two-part season-finale.
Mitch and Cam get married, amid semi-chaos.

“The Bridge,” 10 p.m., FX. When Sonya finally captured evil Eleanor
last week, it looked like a big breakthrough. Not so; an inter-agency battle
creates frustration in this excellent episode, propelling Marco to attempt
something absurdly dangerous.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 16

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Mindy Project” season-opener, 9:30
p.m., Fox.

Some shows fall apart when their lead character falls in
love; not this one. Mindy is with Danny, a decent guy who really loves her;
that brings large laughs and small bits of warmth.

She keeps telling their colleagues intimate secrets about
him; then she finds the one secret he’s been hiding. Complicating things is the
arrival of Morgan’s ex-con cousin, played by Rob McElhenney of “It’s Always
Sunny in Philadelphia.” Despite an overload of sexual content, it’s an
excellent episode.

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE II: “America’s Got Talent,” 8 and 9-11
p.m., NBC.

First is a trimmed version of last week, which saw the top
12 acts perform, with half of them sent home. Then the survivors get their last
shot to get votes, before Wednesday’s million-dollar finale.

Half are singers – Miguel Dakota, vocal powerhouse Emily
West and 12-year-old soulster Quintavious Johnson. One group, Sons of Serendip,
is a foursome ranging from vocals to cello and harp. Then there’s AcroArmy (a
platoon of acrobat/gymnasts) and Mat Franco, an amazing close-up magician.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “Sons of Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX.

Desperate to hide the truth – that she killed the wife of
her son Jax – Jemma has ruined many lives. Last week she accused a young
Chinese men of the murder; Jax tortured and killed him. Now Jax begins a brutal
assault on the entire Chinese gang … and others in the way.

The result makes for high-octane entertainment, but leaves
no one to root for.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE II: “The Roosevelts: An Intimate
History,” 8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.

Teddy Roosevelt left the presidency as the most popular man
in America, this terrific chapter says, and instantly regretted not running
again. He kept trying to get back on top.

Now we see his cousin Franklin rise, sharing the same sense
of joy. And we end with the funeral of Teddy, a vibrant man who died at 60. As
one policeman said: “There was such fun in being led by him.”

Other choices include:

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m., ABC. It’s time for the
first person to be ousted. Also, Smokey Robinson and Aloe Blacc combine for “My
Girl” and the show’s three new pros link for a dance number.

More reality, 8 p.m., Fox and CBS. In an end-of-summer
logjam, all four of the top networks have reality shows here. Fox’s “Utopia”
and CBS’ “Big Brother” face “Talent” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. The cartel has stolen a
submarine and plans to use it to haul drugs.

“New Girl” season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox. The summer-wedding
season is ending, leaving friends in despair. The result is erratic and blunt,
but has its fun moments.

“The Jennie Garth Project” debut, 9 and 9:30 p.m., HGTV.
Garth – a TV star since the original “Beverly Hills 90210” – tackles a massive
project, gutting and rebuilding her Hollywood Hills home.

“Matador,” 9 p.m., El Rey. Life is complicated for Tony, a soccer
player and undercover cop. Now the team owner knows his scheme. Also, Tony has
a body to deal with … and doesn’t know who she was.

“Finding Carter,” 10 p.m., MTV. This started with Carter learning
that the woman she considered her mother had kidnapped her when she was 3. The
first season ends tonight with another dark secret.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 15

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Dancing with the Stars” season-opener,
8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

With the oldest audience on network TV, “Stars” stretches
for youth. It has Sadie Robertson, 17, of “Duck Dynasty”; it also has Bethany
Mota of YouTube … paired with fan-favorite Derek Hough, whose sister Julianne
joins the judging panel.

On the flip side are designer Betsey Johnson, 72, and
comedian Tommy Chong, 76. There are athletes (Lolo Jones, Randy Couture,
Michael Waltrip), a newsman (Tavis Smiley) and actors … including Alfonso
Ribeiro, 30 years after he danced with Michael Jackson in a famed Pepsi

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m.,

A week before TV’s best comedy opens its season (in its
temporary Monday home), it reruns this season’s last two episodes. They’re
great ones, filled with key plot twists.

After a setback, Penny makes a big decision in the first
episode … leaving Sheldon bewildered in the second. Both episodes trace Raj’s
romance with Emily and Howard’s woes with his injured mom.

WEEK’S ON-GOING HIGHLIGHT: “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,”
8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.

Ken Burns’ brilliant, seven-days series wrapped up its
opener Sunday, with Teddy Roosevelt becoming president. He was a man of endless
energy – writing 150,000 letters, reading a book a day and more. “He couldn’t
stop talking,” historian David McCoullough said.

Roosevelt propelled the national parks and battled moguls.
To prevent a labor war, he threatened to nationalize the coal industry. He
aided the seizing of Panama, but won the Nobel Prize for mediating Russia and
Japan. Then he said he wouldn’t run again (after seven years in office) and
soon regretted it.

Other choices include:

“USA vs. the World,” 8-11 p.m., NBC. “American Ninja Warrior”
wrapped up last week. Now five of the top finishers compete against a team from
Japan and Europe.

“MasterChef” finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox. Three home chefs
compete for $250,000 and a book deal. As usual, it’s a varied bunch. Elizabeth
Cauvel, 31, is a Brooklyn ad executive; Leslie Gilliams, 56, is a Malibu
stay-at-home dad. Courtney Lapresi studied dance at the School for the Arts in
Philadelphia; now her art involves being an aeriel dancer in Haven, a
high-octane nightclub in Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget.

“To Have and Have Not” (1944), 9 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies. Lauren Bacall’s movie debut is followed at 11 by “The Big Sleep”
(1946). Both films, with Humphrey Bogart starring and William Faulkner writing
dialog, drew high praise.  A 24-hour
Bacall tribute starts at 8 p.m. with a 2005 interview.

“Terror at the Mall,” 9 p.m., HBO. A year ago (on Sept. 21),
four young Somalians walked into a Kenya mall and began shooting, killing 61
people and wounding hundreds. A SWAT team hesitated for hours, leaving five
plainclothes policemen and two civilians to do the rescues. This compelling compilation
of security-camera footage and interviews ranges from fear to the little girl
who walked out calmly, then said, “Mommy, I don’t want to do any more shopping

“Under the Dome,” 10 p.m., CBS. Melanie’s health
deteriorates, but others have problems, a week before the season-finale: There’s
a chance everyone in Chester’s Mill will be crushed to death.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 14

TONIGHT’S MUST-SEE: “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History”
opener, 8, PBS, rerunning at 10.

Here is TV at its best. In seven nights and 14 hours, Ken
Burns traces three Roosevelts who grew up rich and championed the poor. This
opener spends a little time on the doted-upon childhood of Franklin and the
troubled family of Eleanor, his fifth cousin and future wife. But mostly, it
eyes their cousin.

Compensating for a sickly childhood, Teddy was fierce. One historian
calls him “a high-functioning neurotic”; another says he was the biggest
“imperialist in American history,” once even suggesting we seize Canada. He
was, George Will says, “a believer, to an unpleasant extent, that might makes

TONIGHT’S MIGHT-SEE: “Miss America,” 9-11 p.m., ABC, with
preview at 8.

After years of wandering -- to cable, to Las Vegas, to
January – the ceremony returned last season to its roots … in Atlantic City, in
September, on a broadcast network. Now it continues that.

Chris Harrison and Lara Spencer host. The preview leaps
between live backstage scenes and historic footage; we meet 30 past Miss
Americas including actress Lee Meriweather, the first to be crowned (in 1955)
on live TV. Dana Blizzard, a comedian and former Miss New Jersey, reports from
the auditorium.

TONIGHT’S ALTERNATIVE: “American War Generals,” 8-10 p.m.,
National Geographic; repeats at 11.

Today’s generals began at a low point for the American military,
during Vietnam. In the aftermath, Gen. Colin Powell says here, “we created one
heck of a terrific Army.” With a skilled, all-volunteer force and mobile
firepower, the U.S. rolled through Desert Storm and the starts of the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars.  

But there was no follow-up, generals say. An early chance to
kill Osama bin Laden was denied; the Iraq soldiers and officials were fired,
creating an instant enemy. “I don’t think a rational person,” Gen. Stanley
McChrystal says, would say the Iraq war was worth the cost in lives and ($2
trillion-plus) money.

Other choices include:

“The Simpsons,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. In the first rerun,
Lisa is dating a competitive-eating wannabe. In the second, she’s in the
future, married to a zombie version of Milhouse.

Football, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC, with pre-game at 7. After beating
the Cowboys 28-17 in their opener, the 49ers host the Bears, who lost to the
Bills, 23-20.

“Unforgettable” season finale, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. (or
later, with football overrun), CBS. The first hour views celebrity obsession,
when a movie star is killed. In the second, Carrie is poisoned; attacking her
brain, the poison endangers her life and cripples her flawless memory.

“Wild Congo,” 9 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Winding through the heart
of Africa, the Congo (or Zaire) River is an awesome force. Almost 3,000 miles
long, it has an island that’s larger than New Orleans. This film offers
beautiful footage of its domain, ranging from swarms of tiny bats to a peaceful
home for elephants.

“Boardwalk Empire,” 9 p.m., HBO. Nucky is obsessed with
stopping whomever tried to kill him in Havana. That’s resolved (possibly) in
this hour’s final, jolting moments. There’s much more in a scattered episode,
including flashbacks to his Nucky’s boyhood, plus the emergence of his
idealistic nephew.

“The Strain,” 10 p.m., FX. Already busy trying to save the
world from the zombie strain, Eph now worries about the disappearance of his
estranged wife. Also, Dutch plans to retaliate against Palmer.  

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 13

MUST-SEE: “Great Performances,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It was
200 years ago today that Baltimore’s Fort McHenry withstood a fierce British
assault. Francis Scott Key promptly wrote the words for what would become the
National Anthem.

Now that’s
celebrated with a live Baltimore Symphony concert on the city’s harbor, plus
fireworks. Jordin Sparks, who hosts with John Lithgow, sings the Anthem, but
there are plenty of other stars from pop (Melissa Etheridge, Smokey Robinson,
Train), country (Kenny Rogers, Little Big Town), classical (Denyce Graves) and
Broadway (Kristin Chenoweth, Paulo Szot).

MIGHT-SEE: “Reckless” finale, 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

revived the notion of scripted summer shows on a big network. It did that with
rich Steven Spielberg productions (“Under the Dome,” “Extant”) and a sturdy
transplant (“Unforgettable”).

But this
one – a lawyer drama stuffed (soap-style) with gorgeous newcomers – floundered and
was exiled to Saturdays. Here’s the court case it’s been pointing to: Fired
from the police department after her sex tape surfaced, Lee Anne said she was
drugged; she sued for sexual discrimination. Jamie and Roy work opposite sides …
then decide about their own relationship.

ALTERNATIVE: “Outlander,” 9 p.m., rerunning at 10, and “The Chair,” 11 p.m.,

really can get better, you know; these did, after so-so starts. As last week’s
episode (rerunning at 8 p.m.) ended, English soldiers found Claire (a
time-traveling English nurse) with a Scotsman. Tonight, she faces a dilemma … and
then a game-changing possibility.

“Chair” gives
two opposite people the same script, with each making a $600,000 film. Tonight,
the crises grow: Money is slow to arrive … approval for a key location is in
limbo … and a director of photography (a vital position) must drop out. Indie-filmmaking,
it seems, is tough.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Deliverance Creek,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

Sparks has had 10 of his novels turned into movies, many of them – “The
Notebook,” “Safe Haven,” “A Walk to Remember” – big on Lifetime-type networks.
Now comes something different: He produced this TV film, which has someone else’s
original script.

heroine (Lauren Ambrose) is Sparks-ian – smart, beautiful and in trouble. A
widow in 1863 Missouri with three kids, she’s been mistreated by the bank; now
she considers crime.

choices include:

7:30 p.m. ET, NBC. This match-up – Notre Dame and Purdue, in Indianapolis – seemed
OK until last week. That’s when Notre Dame (now ranked No. 11) crushed,
Michigan 31-0 … while Purdue was losing to Central Michigan, 38-17.

football, 8 p.m. ET. Here’s one of those nights when three of the four big networks
have college games. There’s NBC, ABC (Tennessee at 4th-ranked
Oklahoma) and Fox (12th-ranked UCLA at Texas). Cable has more,
including 9th-ranked Southern California at Boston on ESPN.

Cove,” 8 p.m., Hallmark. Olivia, a judge, finds a secret about the new assistant
district attorney.

Who,” 9 p.m., BBC America. Yes, this show has some large-scale tales. Tonight,
it sends the Doctor and Clara to the end of the universe.

“Hell on
Wheels,” 9 p.m., AMC. Now that Elam is back, Cullen tries to re-connect with

Night Live,” 11:29 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), NBC. Tina Fey hosts
this rerun, with Arcade Fire as music guest.